03/09/06 — Duplin targets stopping youth gangs

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Duplin targets stopping youth gangs

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on March 9, 2006 1:54 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County lawmen say gangs are trying to recruit young people across the county and the Sheriff's Office has applied for a $100,000 state grant to attack the problem.

Capt. Timmy Jones said investigators have seen signs of gang activity at several schools. Gang graffiti has been seen scrawled on restroom walls and in some students' notebooks, he said. Students have been seen wearing clothing suggestive of gang membership.

"It's in all the schools, north, south, east and west," he said. "We confiscated from one kid a notebook called 'the gang member's book of knowledge.' We're not to the point where people need to be petrified. Just be alert and vigilant. And alert us about any suspicious activity. We're only as good as our citizens. You're our eyes and ears."

The grant money would be used to place a law enforcement officer in schools to teach students how to be aware of gang activity and the dangers it poses. The grant also would allow the office to hire a liaison person to work with law officers and other community agencies to ensure that gang activity is monitored and that any criminal activity associated with gangs is kept in the public eye.

"If we determine that the crime is gang-related, we want to make sure they're not slapped on the hand and sent back home," Jones said.

Jones said some of the graffiti indicates that would-be gangs in the county might be associated with Hispanic gangs that have sprung up in other counties around the state, such as MS 13. A liaison officer might well be someone who speaks Spanish and can communicate better with Hispanic students, he said. But he added that law enforcement officers are not targeting Hispanics.

He urged residents to actively help law enforcement deal with the problem before it grows.

If people sit in their homes and say, 'nothing's going on here,' the gangs "will take over all communities, black, white and Hispanic," he said. "Our common cause is to make this a safe place for kids to learn and live."